Loyalty should not be the determining factor for Trapattoni


SOCCER ANALYST:AS A manager the anticipation of departure to a European or World finals tournament, even at underage level, was invigorating. For the players it was likely to be the pinnacle of their international careers. The days leading up to the squad announcement were tense for us all, just as they are now for those on the edge of Giovanni Trapattoni’s Euro 2012 squad.

Players like Keith Fahey and Stephen Hunt will be hoping their contributions in qualifying will get them the nod, while others who are close, like Paul Green, Séamus Coleman, James McCarthy and James McClean, will wait anxiously to hear their fate.

Generally it’s assumed Trapattoni will stick to those tried and certainly trusted players who were part of his squad in the qualifying group and who turned up for the sacred summer friendlies last year.

Loyalty to them is admirable, but really the only thing that matters is that he selects the best possible squad to try to win the tournament.

Maybe that’s not the general attitude, it sounds a bit outrageous, but if the Greeks and Denmark have won it in the past, they’re the example that sometimes dreams can come true, however unlikely the initial prospects.

Of course there are numerous aspects to the selection of a squad. If there is an element of risk involved in taking only seven defenders, which seems to be anticipated, with eight midfielders and five attackers, it should be covered by the adaptability of John O’Shea, Stephen Kelly and Darren O’Dea, who have played all across the back in their careers.

Add in Richard Dunne, Seán St Ledger and the Wolves pairing of Kevin Foley and Stephen Ward and they seem to be the likely seven.

Equally, it’s hard to see beyond Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Jon Walters and Simon Cox for the attacking positions.

While these five have had mixed seasons club-wise, especially Doyle, whose form has deteriorated dramatically, they are the best options, physically and technically, as a group that have ever been available to an Irish manager.

It’s a broad statement, but I can’t think of a stronger group – and I stress group – of reasonably fast, strong, technically decent forwards. You could play any of the four with Robbie and we’d still have some physical presence.

So, it looks like only the goalkeepers and the midfield area provide the room for discussion or deliberation in Trapattoni’s mindset. And maybe there’s none there either. But really, should it be like that?

While bowing to the manager’s vast experience and success at the highest level of the game, I repeat myself – all that matters is selecting the best players available.

Suggesting, then, that players like James McCarthy, Anthony Pilkington and Robert Brady are for the future makes no sense to me. If they’re good enough now, which McClean most certainly is, they should be in the squad.

The opportunity to select the best now must be grasped and the future dealt with later.

I saw McClean against Liverpool back in March, every time he got on the ball the Sunderland supporters got on their feet, you’d swear it was George Best they were watching.

It reminded me of the impact Damien Duff had when he first came in to the Blackburn team as a young fella, and then for Ireland. The crowd loved him, there was a buzz in the ground every time he got on the ball.

But McClean doesn’t just have an effect on the crowd, he has it on the opposition too. Liverpool were putting two or three players on him, Craig Bellamy, who was playing on that side, never got a kick. Power, trickery, confidence, there are lots of attractive pieces to his armory.

And he’s not just a winger who creates goals, he can come inside and score them too.

He’s ready. Now.

And as the gap since the 2002 World Cup exemplifies, the opportunity to play in these tournaments can be rare.

Look at John O’Shea, for example – he’s 31 now and has never played in a major finals. Richard Dunne too, he was in the 2002 squad but didn’t get a game.

In the weeks leading up to a squad announcement it was, for me, essential to weigh up the current form of all the players. For the majority, although I was interested, form was irrelevant, because I knew they would produce the goods.

But for those final few places it was an uneasy time as you tried to ensure you made the correct decisions. You have to evaluate a player’s fitness, adaptability, mental strength, tactical understanding and suitability for international tournament football.

Of course the balance between experience and the enthusiasm of youth comes in to it. I made those critical decisions based on what I saw in front of my own eyes in games.

Again, Trapattoni’s reluctance to attend games baffles me.

Surely players of the calibre of Pilkington, Wes Hoolahan and Marc Wilson, all regulars in the Premier League, unlike others almost definitely in the squad, deserve the once over from the man making the big decisions? As do, of course, Coleman, McCarthy and McClean.

Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Darron Gibson, Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady are, I’d assume, midfield definites. Hunt, you’d imagine, is nearly definite. That’s six. I would have thought Keith Fahey was too, but maybe not?

But if he is, then that’s one place left between Green, McClean, McCarthy and Coleman. How often has Trapattoni actually watched these players? And maybe if he went to see Paddy Kenny occasionally at QPR his goalkeeping cover for Shay Given would change? Millwall’s David Forde ahead of Kenny and Joe Murphy at Coventry?

A strange one that, in my opinion.

If his attendance at games was more regular this season, then traipsing around Croagh Patrick last Saturday, and wherever he’ll be this weekend, might be forgivable, but it’s not forgivable now.

In my management career I never picked a player based on DVD or video evidence. You cannot see all a player’s qualities or delivery of his responsibilities on tape.

I doubt if it was considered acceptable for the manager to stay at home at weekends and watching DVDs when he was the boss of the Italian national team selecting a squad for the World Cup in 2002 and the Euros in 2004.

One of the most difficult calls I ever had to make was to phone an 18-year-old Glenn Whelan and explain my logic for leaving him out of the squad for the Under-19 Uefa finals in Norway in 2002.

He had played in a brilliant 2-1 play-off victory over Holland to get us to Norway, so I’m sure my explanation was inadequate for Glenn. Even though he was one of my favourite players personally, I had to leave sentiment aside, as Trapattoni must, to pick a squad to get results and win the tournament.

Glenn went on to play a major part in the Under-20 World Cup in 2003 and has gone on to have a fine career with Stoke City. I think Glenn and I are still friends, despite that call. So, Trap: be nice. Make a few calls before you release the squad officially, don’t do it by text please, or use the media to explain.

It’s a tough one, but you might need some of those left behind on another day, and they will appreciate it.